Tuesday, 10 June 2014

New Title Tag Guidelines

Recently Google has redesign SERP which not seems a big deal for casual observer, but it will have some impact over SEO. This post will go in details about impact of redesign on title tags, and define a new, data-driven length limit.

How the Title tag redesign impacts?

Google SERP title redesign has increased the font size of result titles, while keeping the over look same size. Look at the following search result both before and after the redesign.

Title in the top has almost all characters of title but in new design it has lost six full characters. The old guidelines has been taken by new one and so the rest of this post is an attempt to create a new set of guidelines for title tag length based on data from real SERPs.

It's harder than it sounds

You might be thinking that it could have reduced or increased number in title and thinking of magic number but unfortunately it’s not easy. While we try to get the rule and set a reasonable length, the reality is that Arial (the title font) is proportionally spaced. Put simply, different characters have different widths. For example, the following two titles are both exactly 40 characters long:

As you can see, these two 40-character titles cover a wide range. Let's break down what's going on here...

(1) Narrow letters are narrow

Ok, that's probably obvious, but let's just put it out there. The first title is full of lowercase l's and i's which take up relatively little space. Meanwhile, m's and w's take up quite a bit more space. In this font, three lowercase l's are actually narrower than one lowercase w.

(2) ALL CAPS take up more space
Capital letters are wider than lowercase letters again, not a big surprise. All-caps titles also tend to be hard to read and are the visual equivalent of shouting. In some cases, like "LEGO" above, capitalization is important and necessary. In other cases, like "BRIDGEWATER COMMONS", it's just noise.

(3) Width varies with the query

Google highlights (bolds) the query keywords, so a longer query will bold more keywords. Bolded characters take up slightly more space. So, even if you found a title that just squeezed into the width limit, the actual display of that title would change depending on the keywords searchers use to find it.

(4) Cut-off titles have fewer characters

Google is cutting off titles with CSS, and the browser appends "…"Whenever a title is truncated. So, a title that's just slightly too long and gets cut will actually be shorter than a title that barely squeaks in under the width limit, due to the additional space required by "…".

In order to really understand what's happening to title tags in the wild, we need to collect the data. So, we set about looking at real searches to understand where title tags were getting cut off after the redesign.

Since Google is truncating the titles using CSS, we have to replicate them as rendered (not just look at source code). Once the titles were extracted, each of them was displayed in a browser (Chrome on Windows 7) at the same size and width as a Google desktop search (18px Arial in a 512-pixel wide <div>). Then, a somewhat bizarre combination of JavaScript, jQuery, AJAX and PHP stored the display length for analysis. Due to minor variations, our display lengths could vary from Google's by ±2 characters.

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